As doctors, we deal with things you’d never want to see—mangled teens in car wrecks, new moms diagnosed with cancer, child abuse, and more. So much trauma leads to PTSD. No surprise we have a high suicide rate. We’re three times more likely to die by suicide than our patients. And (here’s the kicker) we’re PUNISHED if we seek help.
When we apply for a license, in tiny font print, right before the signature line, we read:
The submission of an application to the Board shall constitute and operate as an authorization by the applicant to each physician or health care practitioner whom the applicant has consulted or seen for diagnosis or treatment—as a waiver by the applicant of any privilege or right of confidentiality.
Same language on hospital credentialing applications. Even some health plan contracts.
Here’s what my physician friend has endured:
“After the unexpected death of a patient, I sought counseling. By a stroke of (bad) luck, I picked the only one in town in charge of impaired physician monitoring. He told the board (though stable) I should be ‘monitored.’ I had to defend myself in front of the Florida board. They laughed in my face and then posted in the local newspapers that I was sentenced to 5 yrs of monitoring. I had mandatory Wednesday group therapy. Though I was an exemplary physician, my employers had to be told why I was unavailable for call every Wednesday. Each time I (re)credential with hospitals, I must explain the whole thing again. HIPAA for me does not exist. I have never missed a single day of work for mental health.”
To avoid public shaming and license repercussions, a family doc told me:
“I’ve been in practice 20 years and have been on antidepressants all of that time, I drive 300 miles to seek care and always pay cash. I am forced to lie on my state relicensing every year. There is no way in hell I would ever disclose this to the medical board—they are not our friends.”
A male doc told me:
“Do you know what really hurts? The fact that anyone can look me up on the Internet and read my dirty laundry.m I’m publicly shamed [by my medical board], punished for being ill. I will only know peace when I am gone.”
So that’s messed up. We help suffering people. Yet we can’t get help. We spend our careers protecting the confidentiality of patients that we can never enjoy. On behalf of all the suicidal doctors I speak to, let’s stop punishing doctors.